3/25/10

    Three Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Department employees who are running for sheriff will have plenty of free time to spend on their campaigns.

    The Department will require deputy James Lujan, Lt. Manuel Valdez and executive secretary Freddie Trujillo to take at least one month of unpaid leave prior to the June 1 Democratic primary election, Undersheriff Paul Valdez said.

    “That way they can go out and politick and campaign and it doesn’t involve the Department and other employes,” Paul Valdez said. “And that way I don’t get any complaints about them politicking while on duty or about them having a conflict of interest.”

    Trujillo, Lujan and Manuel Valdez are among seven Democratic candidates running to replace Sheriff Joe Mascareñas, who must step aside due to term limits (see page 12 for a full list of County candidates). No Republican candidates filed in the Sheriff’s race or for any other County office.

    County personnel policy requires any employee who files a declaration of candidacy for any elected position to take a leave of absence 30 days prior to the primary election, and again before the general election. The policy does not apply to sitting elected officials or to candidates running unopposed.

    The candidates may use any vacation time they have to continue drawing a paycheck while on leave, Paul Valdez said.

    Mascareñas said federal law may require the candidates to take leave even sooner, or even resign.

    County policy requires any employee “whose principal employment is in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants” to comply with the federal Hatch Act. The Act forbids federal employees from running for office in a partisan election.

    Mascareñas said the Department is partly funded by federal grants, so he has requested legal clarification on whether the Act would apply to his employees.

    “If the Hatch Act applies, and if it says (they must take leave) immediately, they may have to leave sooner than May 1,” Mascareñas said. “I don’t know yet though. I want to make sure I’m straight on this.”

    Lujan said he does not think the Act applies to him because he does not participate in any federally-funded programs, such as DWI saturation patrols.

    “But I guess it’s up to the sheriff,” Lujan said. “He’s the boss.”

    Mascareñas, who was undersheriff when he first ran in 2002, acknowledged he voluntarily took some leave that year in order to campaign, but was never required to do so. He pointed out the County’s personnel policy was drafted in 2003.

    “I don’t believe we had that policy then,” Mascareñas said. “That was eight years ago.”

    The required leave will leave the Department without two of its senior officers, Manuel Valdez and Lujan. The Department is too short-staffed to post deputies on duty between midnight and 8 a.m.

    “It will affect the manpower issue, but they have the right to run,” Mascareñas said. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. This is a new situation. We’ve never had that many people running from within the Sheriff’s Department.”

    Trujillo said the policy is "difficult" for the candidates, but he agrees with it.

    Manuel Valdez could not be reached for comment.

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